TV Review - Grease: Live (2016)

FOX mounted an adaptation of the hit musical as a live broadcast. It comes in the wake of NBC doing live broadcasts of popular, stage-to-screen musicals, such as The Sound of Music Live! (2013), Peter Pan Live! (2014) and The Wiz Live! (2015).

Grease (1978) is currently the highest-grossing, musical film domestically, even adjusted for inflation. It's listed as #20 on AFI's Greatest Movie Musicals. Its soundtrack was the 2nd best-selling album of the year of its release, producing two #1 singles, including "Summer Nights" and "You're the One That I Want." It was even nominated for an Academy Award, Best Original Song for "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which was recorded by Olivia Newton-John, the former female lead. Many will no doubt compare this version to that film, which is streaming on Netflix, but, in many ways this TV version is better or decidedly more fun.

Aaron Tveit (Gossip Girl and Graceland) stars as Danny Zuko, a teenage greaser, a young man who is really into cars, fixing them up and racing them. The grease from working on automobiles end up all over his hands and clothes, but it also ends up in his hair, which he and his friends like because they can use the grease to style their heads any way they want. He typically wears dark jeans and a black, leather jacket. When he's performing his signature song, "Greased Lightnin," he channels Elvis Presley, which makes sense as Danny lives in 1959 California. Unfortunately, Tveit doesn't channel Elvis as well as John Travolta did in the original film, but he's sexy enough.

Emmy-winner Julianne Hough (Dancing With the Stars and Footloose) co-stars as Sandy, a fellow senior in the fictional Rydell High School who transferred from Salt Lake City. She's described as a goody two-shoes. She's sweet and innocent, meaning virginal, but she falls in love with Danny over the summer prior to school starting without realizing that he has this cool guy, seemingly tough, greaser persona. She's more open, honest and unashamed. When she tries-out to be a cheerleader, she's revealed to be a great dancer. Her only problem is that her parents are somewhat strict. It's never stated, but coming from Utah, her family could be Mormon or highly religious and forbidding of her doing certain things like hanging out with horny greasers.

Like with most musicals of the romantic-comedy order, Danny and Sandy go back-and-forth with the essential question being if they'll overcome their very slight issues and ride off into the sunset together. The main focus is if Danny is willing to shed his greaser persona for his love of Sandy, if he's willing to respect her or just continue to be the cool guy.

As Danny and Sandy ping-pong, swirling around them are their friends. Danny's fellow greasers are called the T-birds. There's four of them. Unlike the film, the casting for the greasers is very diverse. One is black and two are Latino. Sandy, meanwhile, befriends a group of girls named the Pink Ladies. There's four of them as well, obviously for easy pairing by the end. This allows the musical to explore various aspects and challenges through each, whether it's teen pregnancy, gang rivalry or etc.

The adult cast is pretty great with Ana Gasteyer, singer-comedienne from Saturday Night Live as Principal McGee who is trying to ensure her students are seen as clean and wholesome. Wendell Pierce (The Wire and Treme) plays Coach Calhoun, the football and sports leader in general presiding over seven seasons of loss. He takes it in stride and remains optimistic. Mario Lopez (Saved By the Bell and Extra) plays Vince Fontaine, the smooth and fast-talking, celebrity host of National Bandstand, the fictional version of American Bandstand.

Initially, Lopez breaks the fourth wall and acts as a kind of narrator for the first hour or so, tossing to commercial breaks. He's the one who comments on the fact that during the opening of the show, it was raining in Los Angeles, which for the NBC productions wouldn't have been a problem because NBC did its live musicals mostly indoors on New York sound stages. Gasteyer also comments comically about the rain and it underscored the meta-aspects and meta-humor at play here.

Principal McGee announces early that National Bandstand will come to Rydell High and broadcast live from Rydell's gymnasium. Therefore, this live broadcast has a live broadcast within it, as such characters can comment or joke about it and have it resonate or echo to the outside world. It adds a little bit of levity to this production, which pushes the limits of what a live broadcast does in terms of scale. The dance sequence during the National Bandstand show, the "Born to Hand Jive" sequence, and even the final sequence, the showstopper of "We Go Together," wield choreography of what looks like hundreds of people.

With Vanessa Hudgens as Rizzo, the alpha female of the Pink Ladies, this whole production does have a feeling akin to High School Musical. Obviously, a lot of the original dialogue from the 1978 version remains, which includes a lot of sexual innuendo and euphemisms for things like masturbation. Rizzo in fact asks Danny if he's going to "flog the log." This adaptation does modernize some things. At the National Bandstand show, one rule in the original is that couples have to be boy-girl. Coach Calhoun drops that line here, perhaps in an effort to be less homophobic.

In terms of the performances, yes, the show is built around Danny and Sandy, but their solos or even group songs don't turn to be as memorable as those by the supporting cast or even the guest stars. Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee) plays Marty, the bourgeois Pink Lady in a long-distance relationship with a marine, and her performance of "Freddy My Love" is the first real standout in this production.

Jordan Fisher (Teen Beach Movie) who plays Doody, the T-bird who wants to be a rock star and practices his guitar much to his fellow T-bird's chagrin performs "Those Magic Changes." Fisher is sweet and charming in a way that's absolutely delightful.

Boyz II Men guest star with their rendition of "Beauty School Dropout." It's a superfluous song that adds a little color in more ways than one to the show. However, Wanya Morris seems to give more than Frankie Avalon did in the original film.

Grease might be a very popular musical. The songs and the choreography are not as great as West Side Story (1961). It doesn't have anything as profound or even all that interesting to say as something like Hairspray (2007). Reflecting on 50's culture, one is best to watch Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Yet, this production is fun, as evidenced by "Born to Hand Jive" and it's amazingly well put together.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14-DLSV.
Running Time: 3 hrs.

Aired live on Sunday, January 31, 2016 on FOX.
Available on


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